- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 26, 2003

Marcus Nispel, the director of the “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” remake, rejoiced when he read influential critic Roger Ebert’s scathing review of his film.

“While I was reading it, I couldn’t help but laugh,” Mr. Nispel says. “I should feel depressed, but it’s like if you make a prank on the schoolteacher and you really get him going, you’ve succeeded.”

Mr. Ebert says in his review: “I doubt that anybody involved in it will be surprised or disappointed if audience members vomit or flee.”

“What he complains about is what I’m most proud of,” Mr. Nispel confirms.

Mr. Nispel can afford to be cavalier about the critical flak. His film earned about $28 million in its opening week.

The first-time director says Mr. Ebert’s rave for Quentin Tarantino’s “Kill Bill: Vol. 1,” a film that spills more blood than arguably any other American film in recent memory, hardly squares with the reviewer’s condemnation of his own far less gruesome debut.

“Ebert says that was all campy,” the director says of the oh-so-culturally-aware and referential violence in the Tarantino film. “This one is real. I’m going, ‘Thank you.’ It’s the type of review that makes people want to watch it even more.”

The German native didn’t initially jump at the chance to direct a remake of the horror classic. He changed his mind after talks with his friend Daniel Pearl, who served as the cinematographer on the first film and does the same on the remake.

“That’s how it all started,” he says. “He was telling anecdotes [about the original shoot], and it sounded like great fun.

“A few weeks later, you’re in the heat of the summer in Texas,” he says.

The director viewed the project as his entry into film after a career in commercials and music videos.

The trouble is, he never saw the original film. Screening it with his wife proved an eye-opener.

“It wasn’t what we thought it would be,” he says. “I thought I’d see a splatterfest. Back then, people said it was the goriest movie of all time, but there was no gore.”

Like “The Blair Witch Project” more than two decades later, 1974’s “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” induced audiences to create the carnage in their own minds.

“We wanted to do something that works [similarly] on a psychological level,” he says, adding that despite critical brickbats, his film has less blood than “your average ‘CSI’ episode.”

There’s little psychology behind the taut belly of star Jessica Biel, whose curves play a key role in the new film, but the remake does flesh out the back story of the killer known as Leatherface and renders the doomed teenagers with a modicum of care.

Still, remaking a classic comes with built-in problems.

“You don’t want to turn off the fans. They have certain expectations,” he says.

He also didn’t want to repeat the original, a mistake he says Gus Van Sant made with his shot-for-shot “Psycho” remake.

“Tobe [Hooper, the original’s director] already did the snuff style,” he says of its scratchy, bleached-out visuals. “I didn’t want to do exactly the same again.”

Critics, Mr. Nispel says, may have wanted to see that style repeated, but “we knew who we made this movie for.”

Modern audiences wouldn’t swallow a film that didn’t look MTV slick or serve up at least a little bloodshed.

The finished product might look nothing like the source material, but both were shot in 30 days, he says.

Mr. Nispel, who counts directors Alan Parker and Adrian Lyne among his influences, recently met Tobe Hooper at the premiere for his remake.

“That was a huge thing for me. You want to make sure he likes it,” says Mr. Nispel, who happily reports Mr. Hooper’s kind remarks post-viewing.

“When I spoke to him, I said, ‘You know how lucky we are, we got to make our first movie with a real, tangible monster, not something made of zeroes and ones,’” he says, referring to Hollywood’s obsession with digital effects.

No matter how much green his film rakes in, the director says he has no interest in directing a sequel.

“No one wants to do a follow-up,” he says. “This movie was unique in its way. We were aware of the risk we were taking. It was like high school with money. You can’t repeat it.”

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